How much respect does a distinguished Civil War hero deserve after he shoots and kills an innocent man? In cold blood? In a downtown Kokomo hotel bar? On Thanksgiving?
Such was the case of Lt. William Wirt Daugherty, whose story had been more or less lost to time until I dug it up.
Daugherty was a 29-year-old career military man, acclaimed for his Civil War service, when he visited his family in Kokomo for Thanksgiving in 1869. During the family’s turkey dinner, Daugherty’s mother complained that a “common laborer” named Joseph Van Horn had been spreading vicious rumors that had stained her daughter’s respectability.
Daugherty vowed to track down Van Horn and make him retract the “lies” or pay with his life. Within hours, the unarmed Van Horn inadvertently chose option number two, taking a bullet in his chest and another in his back.
Daugherty spent the next year behind bars awaiting trial in Tipton County, where his case had been moved due to the community’s outrage over Van Horn’s cold-blooded murder.
Lt. Daugherty, circa 1880
Despite a full confession and a slew of eyewitnesses, Daugherty was acquitted and resumed his military career and his life.
Even after he retired in 1893, he remained active in an array of military-related activities. In 1910, he and Indiana Governor Thomas R. Marshall accompanied a group of Civil War veterans to the battlefield of Antietam to dedicate Indiana’s war monument.
Daugherty died in 1922 at the age of 81 and was buried in the celebrated Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, his conduct unbecoming a hero apparently long forgotten.
Daugherty’s victim, Van Horn, is buried in Crown Point Cemetery in Kokomo, although I could never locate his grave. On April 22, 2017, I visited Daugherty’s grave in Crown Hill.
Afterward, I took advantage of the opportunity and sought out John Dillinger, who also is buried in Crown Hill. Typically, a decorated military officer would have little in common with a lawless gangster. But I’m not so sure about Daugherty and Dillinger—one a forgotten hero, the other a glorified legend.
I can’t help but wonder how they would work it out. •
* * * *
Side Note ...
The burial site of our revered Public Enemy No. 1 is among the most visited graves at Crown Point, which is significant considering the cemetery is also the final resting place for numerous Indiana icons, not the least of which are Benjamin Harrison and James Whitcomb Riley. John Dillinger's stone was covered with pennies, which are collected and donated to Riley’s Children’s Hospital.